Would you believe one of the newest trends in home design is urinals in the bathrooms? Who would want one of those ugly things in their home? No one. Which is why half a dozen of the leading toilet manufacturers are now designing new "home style" urinals.
Villeroy & Boch, the German ceramic firm that has made fine tableware for several hundred years, makes an attractive urinal that looks like a large porcelain egg with a flip top that can be mounted unobtrusively in any corner. Other models come in various geometric shapes. But for the truly upscale home, San Francisco potter Clark Sorenson has come up with what can only be called stunningly beautiful, yet practical works of art.
"I think as an artist it was a fun challenge to take something thought of as so ugly, as an object of derision, and make it into something beautiful," Sorenson says.
Sorenson says the inspiration just hit him one day while using one of the more mundane public urinals: "Why not flowers?"
From thought to product, was two years of trial and error. He had to make a study of the flushing mechanism to learn how to incorporate it into the product. He used the same vitreous porcelain used to manufacture sinks and toilets — a totally new type of clay for him that he had never tried before.
"My first piece was so thick and heavy," Sorenson says, "now, as I've learned they are so much lighter."
Each piece is hand-built using coil and pinch methods of traditional potters. He uses the vitreous clay because the high firing means the clay will not absorb moisture or odors, but he finds it difficult to work with. Most of them cracked during the drying process before ever making it into a kiln.
His giant flowers are so realistic and fantastic at the same time that they usually make people smile. Who wouldn't want a giant hibiscus or poppy or Jack-in-the-Pulpit on their bathroom wall? He also makes lilies, morning glories, daffodils, tulips and orchids. Recently, he started a new line of seashells, and he has a "surprise" planned for his next show.
"I'm still fighting with the glazes a lot," he says, "it's not easy to get the glazes I really like. Getting the bright colors at that high temperature has been a real challenge."
Because of all the work — the original pieces each took nearly a year to complete. He has now refined that to about six months. Prices start at around $6,000.
And the trend is starting to catch on internationally. In 2005, he was invited to exhibit at a housing fair in Korea.
Sorenson hasn't made it to Japan yet, and was unaware that over 150 years ago a Japanese potter had the same inspiration. A 19th century book revealed to the western world a drawing of a large ceramic calla lily urinal. It's unknown if any survived, but Sorenson says he would love to see one.
While the urinals are designed for men, Sorenson says it has been mostly women interior designers who have bought them. Many women have asked him if he could design matching sinks. He's thinking about it. Who knows, in 30 years we may all have bathrooms that resemble gardens.